They’re here!

Wired books 2

And they are gorgeous! Thanks to the amazingly talented Laura Otto Rinne at Lerner Books. Carolrhoda Lab and Lerner have set the bar pretty dang high for any future books I may be lucky enough to get published. Check out the amazing inside cover.

Wired Books

Both Wired Man and The Other Way Around were so beautifully designed inside and out! With less than two months until this baby launches into the world I’m super psyched to share my favorite quote from the Publisher’s Weekly review (which you read in full here if you so desire.)

“It’s a keenly observed, emotionally deep examination of wounded, insecure teens trying to find their way.”

If you want to pre-order this bad boy feel free to use any of the links below.

From Lerner 

From Indiebound

From Amazon

Thanks always for your love and support -look out for details coming on a book release party!!

Safe Spaces

Door

This year at the middle school I started a club called Safe Space. The mission of our club is promote diversity, tolerance, respect and understanding for all students and staff at the middle school. There is nothing about being gay in our mission statement, but our flyer features a rainbow triangle so for some students I hope the message is clear.

So far in our first few meetings we mostly just sit around and shoot the shit. And that’s how I envisioned it. There is a loneliness inherent in hiding a part of yourself away. This is true for students who have strong friendships and even more so for those who don’t. So combatting loneliness was a big part of why I’ve nudged for years to have a group like this one.

Over the weekend YA author Malinda Lo posted this moving reflection about what gay clubs meant to her growing up. And it got me thinking about spaces where we are safe. It is such a privilege to walk through the world feeling safe. One of the great privileges of my childhood was growing up in a safe family and a safe community.  My family was safe because it was so unconditionally loving and accepting. My community was safe because it was tree-lined, wealthy and relatively crime-free. And yes, of course safe also means sheltered too. But that’s another post. The point is. I didn’t have to experience food insecurity, or abuse, or fear in walking down the street.

The community where I teach is a lot like the one I grew up in. That is why I think some students scoffed at the name of our club. Why do we need a safe space club? A few of them even showed up at the first meeting intent on being provocative or disruptive. That is their privilege. Hopefully one day they’ll go to a liberal arts college and figure it out. Or read an incredible book by someone without that privilege that shifts their understanding.

When I was in my early twenties I used to go dancing at the Man Ray club in Cambridge, MA. Gay, straight, Trans,  gender-conforming or not. Everyone was accepted in that ecstatic world. That’s part of why I included a scene from that club in my upcoming book about boys in their senior year of high school struggling with identity. I loved dancing at the Man Ray. I did feel safe there. But I was so lucky because it wasn’t the only place where I was safe and free to be myself.

It is exhausting to walk through the world wondering if you are in danger just for being yourself. Physical danger, emotional danger, it is exhausting. So yes, kiddos, we do need safe spaces; in our schools, in our homes, in our communities. And when one of those spaces is tragically violated as it was this weekend in Orlando it is a good reminder to us all not to get lazy, not to assume everyone feels as safe as we do, and to do whatever we can to create spaces where they do.

 

 

Yer Mother

Women in my family have a long history of not giving a care about mother’s day. There is one phrase that always irks me and it seems to come out in full force around Mother’s Day; that’s when people thank their kids for “making them a mother”.

It’s just not something I relate to and it seems to simplify and diminish a process of change and transition that lasts months and even years. Also, and I know this is my own hang up, but no one made me a mother except me. Simply reproducing does not make you a mother or a father. Growing and carrying another person inside your uterus for 9 months is pretty miraculous but it also does not make you a mother. Getting that baby out of your body in whatever way works is pretty badass but it also does not make you a mother.

Shortly after Eliana was born I felt like I had survived that scene in Aliens when the creature punches a hole through the human and emerges yowling at its new found freedom. I did not feel like her mother. I felt like the most under-qualified babysitter ever and I kept waiting for someone to show up and take her for a few weeks so I could read all those important baby books I’d been given.

When I think about experiences that made me a mother, I think about the first time I changed a blow out diaper in the back of my car. Or when I learned that I could nurse my baby in most settings and without the four hundred pillows I used at home to get us both comfortable. Until Eliana started calling me mama that word felt awkward to me. I hated when people used in a weird third person greeting when I was still pregnant. “How’s mama feeling?” Who are you talking about? I’m sure my face said it all. I’ve never been very good at hiding my thoughts.

To me the word mother represents nurture. It represents putting someone’s needs in front of your own, again and again and again. It represents a unique marinade of love and frustration, pride and fear. It is not something given to you, it’s something you show up for every day; a role you grow with and into sometimes gracefully, but more often covered in some sort of bodily fluid.

Freaky Friday Reveal -the Truth About Normal

Monkey

I spent a lot of middle school and the early parts of high school trying to be normal. In WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE my main character Ben is obsessed with the appearance of normalcy and doesn’t understand people like Ilona, the blue-haired skater girl, who reject it. (Who are these people I’m referencing? See last week’s post for character details.)

In order to write a whole book about something I have to connect to the material on a fundamental level. I distinctly remember experiences from elementary school, middle school and high school where I felt called out for being other than normal. In 4th grade I had friend ask the boy I liked what he thought of me. His response: “She’s pretty, but she’s kind of weird.” So for more years than I care to admit I tried really hard to be less weird. Something I understand now as a very typical part of adolescence -but what a waste!

As a middle school teacher I’m most in awe of those kids who seem to move through middle school with a strong sense of self firmly intact. Those kids who don’t try and be anyone but themselves. which in middle school this is not only an act of wisdom but one of bravery.

I have a weird name and weirder still -I made it up when I was 2. My family played the guitar and sang folks songs at Thanksgiving and went to nude beaches on summer vacation. I gave my stuffed animal monkey the name Harriet Irving because I couldn’t tell if it was male or female and I didn’t want to impose gender on it….I was nine. I was weird. And the only thing I regret about it is that I didn’t learn to embrace it sooner.

Next Wednesday I’ll be revealing the cover for WIRED MAN on the awesome YA Interrobang site -stay tuned!

 

Freaky Friday Reveal Part Deux

DedicationSo What’s this new book about anyway? “What’s its aboutness?” is a phrase my former fiction writing professor Justin Tussing used to use. Kind of like theme but more generous than theme, more room for loosey-goosey feelings about what you’re reading.

Yeah Kaufman, but what’s the book about? It’s about friendship, ultimately. Which is why I chose the dedication I’m revealing above. The acknowledgment section of a book is a bit like the blurb underneath one’s yearbook photo (see last week’s post).  You want to be sincere and you don’t want to leave anyone out. A dedication is a little bit different. This book is really about finding the friends that make you feel at home in the world and no one has done that for me more than my dearest Tara. In our first meeting on the rugby field I stepped on her foot and broke her toe. This was not a tough girl move -it was a clutzy one. She still decided I was worth keeping around. Like any twenty year friendship we have had our share of ridiculous moments and poignant ones. I know there are more to come.

Here’s a little more about the book from the inside flap copy:

Ben Wireman is partially deaf and completely insecure. The only two things that make him feel normal are being a soccer goalie and hanging out with his best friend, Tyler.

Tyler Nuson is the golden boy, worshiped by girls and guys alike. But Tyler’s golden facade is cracking, and the dark secrets hidden behind it are oozing to the surface. Ben has no idea what to do when Tyler’s memories of their past start poisoning everything, including their friendship.

Enter Ilona Pierce. With tattoos, blue hair, and almost no friends, she’s exactly the kind of weirdo Ben has tried to avoid his entire life. But without Tyler, Ben isn’t sure who he is anymore, and maybe, just maybe, hanging out with a freak is what he needs.

Wired Man and Other Freaks of Nature is a captivating and compelling story about the shifting dynamics between two best friends during their senior year in high school, as their loyalty to each other is tested by betrayal, secrets, girls, and the complex art of growing up.

 

Freaky Friday Reveal Part I

Yearbook

Oh wow. There I am, head tilt, blown out hair and all. The purpose of this post is to be revealing. In less than 3 weeks time I’ll be revealing the cover of my new book WIRED MAN AND OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE which is coming from Carolrhoda Lab in September. Cover reveals are kind of a fun thing in the YA lit world. It’s kind of like a baby shower for your book. No baby yet, but here’s a fun teaser.

Anyway, since it’s a reveal, I’ll be taking advantage of the next three Fridays to post something revealing about me and/or the book. I feel like I could leave this photo -my high school senior picture and the weird scramble of shout outs underneath as the revealing item. But there’s more. But before I get to it I feel like pointing out that these little pre-twitter blurbs that we were allowed to post under our pictures laden with not very discreet drug and alcohol references, not to mention a clear list of who your “besties” were and weren’t -were just ridiculous.

Back to the true revelation which has to do with the quote. I had a lot of trouble finding the right quote. Also, I was lazy. My friends were all pulling out these cool song lyrics or deep sentiments of famous writers. I wanted something that would tell the world of Newton North High School that I was destined for greatness and hell if anything was going to get in my way. Even something like finding the right quote. So I made one up. That’s right. I just thought of the words and put quotes around them. No one ever asked where it came from. It came from me. I wrote my own meaningful quote. A fiction writer -even then.

 

One Story to Rule Them All

A couple of months ago I read this story about about a woman who tells her two young children a sanitized version of the plot of Game of Thrones as a way to get through meals in restaurants and long car trips. When she tells them about the fate of the characters and the various plot twists, they forget to argue over the last breadstick or kick each other under the table. This is genius.

When my daughter was a little younger bath time was fraught with drama; mostly around washing and drying and combing the knots from her hair. To get through the fun times I found myself resorting to long Baby Squirrel stories or Anna Marie Bananacake stories. The Baby Squirrels are your archetypal mischief makers and Anna Marie Bananacake is a girl who never wants to wash her hair until birds and other wildlife begin nesting in it. You get the idea. The point of the stories was to hold her interest long enough to accomplish the task. Therefore they often dragged on interminably over the details. Eliana never minded. She loves a story. But pretty soon I minded. I would have rather poked my eyes out with a fork than tell another Baby Squirrel story. Luckily she developed more of a tolerance for bath time and does most of the hair washing herself. Also, we turned to audio books. I’m perfectly happy to listen to the same stories over and over as long as I don’t have to be the one inventing them on the spot.

But this recent article got me thinking about the power of stories, about their ability to soothe and transport us. Stories allow us to focus on the struggles and challenges facing others in the face of our own difficulties; whether that’s a huge sticky knot of hair or something worse. I also wondered what stories I know well enough to recount the way this woman clearly knew Game of Thrones. I could probably do parts of Harry Potter, and all of the Grapes of Wrath -though I’m not sure that would interest my five year old. I wish I knew Tolkien better; I think the adventures of Sam and Frodo would be ideal. Any ideas? What stories would you tell if it meant you could eat your dinner in relative peace?

Is Global Warming Real?

Today a student asked me that. She was in the midst of an argument with another student, who I suspect was just trying to provoke her. But nonetheless I responded, “Do you want my answer as a science teacher, or a flaming liberal?”

I always assume my students can see my political flags flying a mile away but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about middle school it’s that you should never ever assume the students are actually listening to you. Most of the time you’re just that Charlie Brown teacher up there nattering away about something that is way less interesting than a snapchat from their friend about a chicken nugget that looked exactly like Harry Styles from One Direction.

But someone was listening because they asked me what a flaming liberal was. It could be that they’re truly interested or it could be that they smelled a way to get their teacher to go on a non-homework related tangent for the next 8-10 minutes while they snapchatted or texted under the desk. Regardless, I took the bait.

What’s a flaming liberal. Hmm, I thought about it for a minute before I began to rant.

“I’m a flaming liberal because I believe that everyone has the right to love and marry whomever they like, because I think all children deserve food and clothing and the semblance of equality in the quality of their education. I think everyone should make a living wage. I think the top 1% of our country should not control 35% of our nation’s wealth or that the wealthiest 85 people in the world should not have more resources than the 3.5 million poorest put together.* I think that everyone has a right to free healthcare and medicine and that older people should be taken care of regardless of their ability to pay. I think women and men should be granted a minimum of a year’s paid parental leave  and I’m more than willing to pay loads more in taxes so that all this can be paid for by our government. And yeah, global warming is real.”

Seriously, that is what I said. The 8th graders looked at me a little bug eyed, at least the ones who were still listening. Then we went back to standardized test prep -because unfortunately, flaming liberals like me do not yet rule the world or the educational system.

 

*okay, okay I didn’t really have these facts off the top of my head but 51% of all statistics are invented anyway.

Book Review: Challenger Deep

Challenger DeepNeal Shusterman’s book Challenger Deep was on my radar even before it won the National Book Award for young people’s literature -I swear! But winning the award didn’t shake my interest either. As someone who has lived with anxiety and depression I’m wary of books, especially YA books, with these issues as their focus.  Sometimes in YA mental illness is treated too “cutely” for my taste. And I really hate when it’s a surprise plot twist – as in actually none of this happened because the narrator is just batshit crazy!

In adult fiction I often find mental illness too hard for me to read about -call it a trigger if you want, but I just call it hard. It’s hard to read about harmful or scary thoughts that are not that different from ones you’ve had yourself. It’s even harder when the person having them is behaving in ways that are self destructive.

All this is to say I was relieved and a bit surprised to fall in love with Challenger Deep the way I did. Shusterman brilliantly blends the real world of its main character, sixteen year old Caden Bosch with the delusions and hallucinations that have taken over his life. Caden believes he is at sea, on a pirate ship bound for the Marianas Trench. The Captain and the parrot on the ship are at war for his loyalty. The book almost borders on magical realism but it is always clear that this alternate reality is one of delusion and not fantasy. Being on a ship, being at sea are wonderful metaphors for how Caden is adrift and un-tethered from reality and Shusterman is never heavy handed in using them.

Shusterman does an outstanding job of letting the reader understand how seductive this other world is to Caden but also how dangerous it is for him to remain there. About midway through the book the places where the real world and the world of delusion overlap become more clear to the reader -again a writer of lesser skill would have struggled to bring them together. I can’t say enough about this book for any reader seeking a great story and a better understanding of what it’s like to live through the throws of mental illness.